For Better Or For Worse: ‘Sister of the Bride’ by Beverly Cleary
It’s been a while since I’ve written about a “classic” YA book in Young Adult Education, so let’s go super old school with Beverly Cleary’s Sister of the Bride. If you’re a woman of a certain age, you’re familiar with Beverly Cleary because she created one of the most iconic characters ever, Ramona Quimby. If your childhood memories aren’t primarily just things you read in a Ramona book that you forgot didn’t actually happen to you…well then, you’re probably more well-adjusted than me. But also I feel sorry for you.
But Beverly Cleary didn’t just write books for young kids…she also wrote some amazing romances for older readers. I remember reading Fifteen when I was actually close to being fifteen, but I hadn’t read Sister of the Bride until this week. And while I was expecting a sort of outdated, probably a little old-fashioned look at weddings and romance, what I got was a surprisingly feminist book that encourages girls to have dreams beyond getting hitched to the first dreamboat who comes along.
Our heroine Barbara is just slogging through high school, dealing with a bratty younger brother and a “trombone-shaped” dude named Tootie who has a crush on her. But when her sister Rosemary gets engaged, Barbara’s life gets a lot more exciting. Even though Rosemary’s only 18, her life seems incredibly glamorous, and Barbara knows that a wedding will bring the chance to wear a gorgeous dress, catch a bouquet and probably realize that the best man is the love of her life.
However, Barbara quickly realizes that things aren’t so perfect. For starters, her parents aren’t happy that Rosemary’s getting married so young. And Rosemary is sort of a hippie who wants to get hand thrown pottery for wedding gifts instead of fine china. And between the demands of everyone involved in the big day and Rosemary’s class load, wedding planning seems more stressful than fun.
To this I say HELL YES. I got married back in April, and while it was a wonderful day and I have so many great memories, whew. I’m glad I never have to do that again. Wedding planning tends to bring out the worst in everyone, myself definitely included. I’m not saying I was a Bridezilla, but I was sort of a “Get-Really-Stressed-Out-And-Cry-A-Lot-Zilla.” Rosemary runs into a ton of generational differences when it comes to wedding planning, and this is something that (in my experience) continues to this day. We all have some metaphorical hand thrown pottery in our weddings, you know?
Anyway, Barbara realizes that marriage is about way more than a wedding. It isn’t some perfect happy ending, but it isn’t an endless life of drudgery and sock-washing, either. But, most importantly, Barbara realizes that she has much bigger things to worry about than getting married, like college and figuring out what she wants to do with her life.
Sister of the Bride shows how much things were changing for women in the early 1960s, but it also shows that there were (and are!) many ways to be a woman. Although I don’t think the book ever uses the term feminism, it expresses a feminist message. Rosemary can get married and go to college (again, this was the 60s, so this was a little more novel than it is today), and being good at domestic tasks doesn’t mean you have to devote your life to fixing dudes’ shirts for them. Beverly Cleary, you rule.
-I haven’t even mentioned that Barbara is JUGGLING THE LOVE OF TWO MEN. Obviously I’m interested in a love triangle. On one side she has the charming, cookie-eating, vespa-riding Bill Cunningham. And on the other side is good old Tootie, who’s way serious but also pretty nice. Anyway, spoiler alert (but not really because this book came out, oh, approximately a million years ago), at the end of the book Barbara has dates planned with both of them. Obviously she is way too busy playing the field to get married anytime soon.
-Just to make this clear, there’s a character named Tootie. Perfect name.
-I came across this completely charming interview with Beverly Cleary, who is very old and very uninterested in learning to use the Internet. I love her. She says she won’t be releasing any more books, but you know what? The woman’s in her late 90s. She’s given us enough. Take some time to relax, Bev.
What about you guys? Have you read Sister of the Bride or any of Beverly Cleary’s other books? Let me know in the comments! And, as always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.
Image via Jezebel